For preppers of all stripes, the concept of a takedown firearm has considerable appeal. Perhaps it is the notion of keeping a rifle in a bag, compartment or other space that you normally could not fit one in.
Some others see no need for a more conventional firearm when the only expected use is in an emergency situation. Still, others will want a “just-in-case” gun for their excursions into deep country far from other people.
Whatever their reasons, for decades, manufacturers have stepped up with guns designed to break down or fold in a variety of ways.
Call them takedown, backpack or survival guns, these special-purpose guns are often chambered in .22 LR, and typified by the sacrifice of most feature sets in order to make them as light, and as compact as possible.
Many makes and models have been produced over the years, but only a few persist today, with the most iconic, and certainly the most popular being the AR-7.
The AR-7 is an old design hailing from the 1950s, and has seen its share of ups and downs having been passed from manufacturer to manufacturer in the decades between.
It is a classic, but is this venerable rifle still worth the money? We look to answer that question in today’s article.
Brief History of the AR-7 Survival Rifle
The original AR-7 was a product of the ArmaLite Corporation, and one of the many fine firearms to spring from the prodigious mind of Eugene Stoner, famously the designer of the paradigm changing AR-15.
The AR-7 was purpose-made to serve as a survival weapon for backpackers, outdoorsmen, and anyone else who might find themselves stranded in the far corners of the world and without help.
The AR-7 itself was immediately descended from the .22 Hornet chambered AR-5, a very similar and also Stoner-created rifle that was issued to the U.S. Air Force with the designation MA-1.
The AR-5 was intended to allow pilots forced to eject or land in deep country to both forage for food, and potentially defend themselves from hostiles. The significant difference between the two guns is the AR-7 is a magazine fed semi-auto where the AR-5 was bolt action.
In what would be a calling card for both Armalite and Stoner, the AR-7 was predominately of materials that were then unusual for the making of guns: aluminum and plastic throughout, featuring an aluminum receiver mated to a steel bolt, and a steel barrel liner ensconced in an aluminum wrap.
The stock was made completely from plastic.
While it never took off (heh) as a U.S. military issued aircrew survival rifle, it would go on to good success in the commercial sector, and has seen issue in the Israeli military, where it has dwelled ever since.
Acquired and produced by Henry since 1997, and firing the tiny .22LR from 8 round magazines and a dead-simple standard blowback action, the little AR-7 is very light, tipping the scales at a feathery 3 ½ pounds.
It is loaded by a reciprocating charging handle on the right side of the action.
Its most interesting features are still what make it so endearing today and, indeed, made up its entire design mandate: the whole gun rapidly disassembles into 4 major component groups without the use of tools by removal of a threaded barrel nut, and unscrewing a captive bolt beneath the wrist of the stock.
This allows the barrel to be removed, and the receiver to be uninstalled from its bedding.
The whole kit and caboodle- receiver, barrel, magazines- nest in the stock behind the buttplate, making for one very compact package. It even floats for a time!
No wonder the rifle is so liked by folks who venture into rough and austere places.
Due to its design philosophy, the AR-7 features no forend, and somewhat spartan sights consisting of a drift adjustable high visibility front blade, and a rear peep that is adjustable for elevation.
The safety is located to the rear of the receiver on the right side and is positively actuated, if a little fiddly.
Most versions of the AR-7, including our subject made by Henry, feature a rail for mounting a scope or other optic, though there is no way to stow the receiver in the stock when it is attached so its utility is diminished somewhat.
Nonetheless, the sights are adequate, and will not be much hindrance for it intended use.
The trigger is one of the AR-7’s worst features, and has been so since its inception. Not even the ministrations of a manufacturer as committed to excellence as Henry could do much with it out of the factory.
The trigger is very thin, and notorious for possessing a muddy, hesitant travel and uncertain break. It is usable, with practice, but you need not expect to win any smallbore matches with one of these little guns.
Shooting and Handling Characteristics
Aside from its super-compact size when stowed and ultra-light weight, the AR-7 is entirely conventional in operation, if not ergonomics. The receiver is offset slightly in the stock when mounted, and the stock itself is somewhat bulbous.
In conjunction with the mushy trigger, lack of forend forcing the shooter to either use a greatly abbreviated hold on the barrel nut or a fuller hold around the magazine (not ideal), and just OK sights, the littlest AR takes a bit of getting used to when shooting.
Mechanical accuracy, at least in the Henry iteration is good, better by a stretch than previous, lesser makers like Charter Arms.
Most examples easily produce 2” inch groups at 25 yards off hand, and were it not for the previously mentioned sights, ergos and trigger, would likely group much better as far as one could expect to push a .22 LR.
Perhaps one weakness of the AR-7 is that it lacks any provision for sling mounting. Considering that a person will likely want to sling it once assembled and in hand, this seems to be a slight oversight.
Not to fear, as the light weight of the AR-7 lends itself to be carried well afield by any improvised sling made form cordage and simple knots fore and aft.
Quirks and Flaws
Blowback operated guns are well-known for their dietary requirements consisting of nothing but full power ammunition.
High velocity or hotter loads gave the best performance with the tested example, and though stand velocity loads functioned fine, sluggish ejection was noticed as the gun started to foul from firing and in the elements.
Anyone desiring to use low velocity or CB cap ammo will need to single load them one at a time through the ejection port.
This brings us to another quirk: the AR-7 lacks a bolt hold-open, and utilizes twin action springs, and pretty heavy ones at that.
Pulling back the greatly abbreviated charging handle is not easy, and this can make single loading, should you be forced to, error prone and difficult. Not a problem for all users but it remains.
One flaw stems from its lack of forend; much of the magazine is exposed when inserted into the rifle, and unlike many other guns, the little 8-shot mags are vulnerable to both damage and pressure from the shooters supporting hand when held in the common manner, either one likely to cause a malfunction.
The magazines themselves are probably the single worst part of the rifle, and their design has changed precious little since its inception.
The magazine lips, even among .22 rifles, are very thin, vulnerable to damage and deformation, or even being sprung entirely out of spec.
Compare the dainty lips of the AR-7 magazine with the brutish, rugged slabs of Ruger 10/22’s box magazine. Big difference.
The paper thin walls and weak geometry of the magazine body means you must further go out of your way to baby them, lest you be left with a difficult-to-load single shot rifle when you are really in a pickle.
Should you think I was too hard on this classic rifle’s mag, stay your tongue: the single, biggest weak point of any semi-auto firearm is the magazine.
Indeed, a semi-auto gun will only ever be as reliable as its magazines are.
The AR-7s are not great. They work fine and feed well when in-spec, but their fragility is a point of contention for me.
Usefulness for Preppers
The AR-7 occupies a very unique niche when it comes to preparation. If one has the space and weight allotment for any fullsize rifle, it will almost certainly be a better choice for use when the time comes to actually get to shooting.
Plenty of other more modern designs will shoot rings around the little AR-7, and benefit from modern sights, optic mounting solutions, nicer triggers, and extended magazines. You could handily double your effective range just by way of better sights and trigger alone.
Competing takedown and backpacking or survival oriented .22’s bring stiff competition against this elderly competitor.
Ruger’s takedown 10/22, especially when equipped with Magpul’s matching stock, is a highly compact package that benefits from all the refinement and perks that one gets with a 10/22, and far improved controls and ergonomics.
To me, the AR-7 is nominally the best possible choice for those who simply want the smallest and lightest possible gun for a rainy day, but there is more to consider than that.
Kept stowed, you can stash the AR-7 anywhere from under a car seat to in a knapsack and no one will be the wiser. The stock compartment, while not totally waterproof, is highly water resistant, and excellent at keeping out dust and grime.
The method of assembly is very forgiving and user-friendly, so even “fair-weather” preppers are unlikely to forget how to put it all together. It is similarly very simple to take down and stow when it is no longer needed.
This is an interesting case, as it leaves it the nominal choice for a shooter that is unlikely to exist: a person who practices shooting with the little AR often enough to overcome its mediocre ergos and trigger to ensure they can deliver with it when needed, but that same person is not a shooter who cares to make space or save weight for a larger more capable rifle.
More likely, it will be the type of gun that is shot once, stowed and forgotten. The person who does something like this is not likely to be what most seasoned shooters would describe as a “serious” shooter, and it will take a more serious shooter to wring the best results from this little, interesting rifle.
It is far from all bad, as if one simply defaulted to the AR-7 (at least one made by Henry) for novelty alone you would still have a fairly durable, reliable rifle, one with limitations.
When it comes to guncraft and shooting the first rule is always “have a gun.” The next is to make sure your gun is reliable. The Henry certainly passes with honors on both those fronts.
Considering its role more as tool and game-getter than defensive weapon, though it can certainly do that in a pinch, the choice of a .22LR like the AR-7 makes eminent sense, as you can carry a ton of ammo in a very small space, and with little added weight compared to more substantial calibers.
The Henry AR-7 is the latest iteration with some small improvements in the long, celebrated history of America’s common survival rifle.
Is the Henry AR-7 the ideal survival rifle for preppers? I don’t think so, but then again what rifle is?
What the Henry does do very well is mate their famous quality to a classic and unique rifle that is loved for its neat and handy takedown capabilities.
If you are willing to overlook its warts when it is time to shoot, you may find its flyweight and super-compact design just what the doctored ordered for your next bug-out bag or adventure.